Consumer Confidence Swells in January

By Kathleen MadiganEconomic IndicatorsDow Jones Newswires

U.S. consumers began 2014 feeling a bit better about the economy, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of consumer confidence increased to 80.7 in January from a revised 77.5 in December, originally reported as 78.1. It is the highest reading since August.

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The January index is above the 77.6 expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

The board's present situation index, a gauge of consumers' assessment of current economic conditions, rose to 79.1 from a revised 75.3 in December, previously put at 76.2.

Consumer expectations for economic activity over the next six months advanced to 81.8 this month from December's revised 79.0, originally reported as 79.4.

"All in all, confidence appears to be back on track and rising expectations suggest the economy may pick up some momentum in the months ahead," said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the board.

The U.S. economy depends on consumers to generate the majority of demand. Earlier Tuesday, the Commerce Department reported that businesses cut back on their ordering of equipment in December, a sign that capital spending will not pick up much at least in early 2014.

Within the board's confidence survey, views on the current labor market are more upbeat this month despite news in early January that payrolls in December increased by only 74,000, much less than the 200,000 forecast by economists.

The board's survey showed 12.7% of consumers this month think jobs are "plentiful," up from 11.9% thinking that in December. Another 32.6% think jobs are "hard to get," little changed from 32.9% who said that last month.

But consumers have more mixed feelings about labor markets over the next six months.

Those anticipating more jobs in the future fell to 15.4% this month from 17.1% saying that at the end of 2013, while the share anticipating fewer jobs also fell to 18.3% from 19.4%.

The survey shows 15.8% expect their incomes to rise in the next six months, up from 13.9% saying that in December. This month is the highest response rate since June 2013.

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